Back in December, 2011 Iran captured a U.S.-built RQ-170 drone. As it turns out, “The Beast of Kandahar” was not piloted by the U.S. Air Force–it was controlled by the CIA. Amidst much fanfare, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard displayed the undamaged Sentinel drone on state television, and went on to claim it had decoded the on-board footage.
But this wasn’t the first time a foreign military paraded a downed U.S. drone. Back in 1964, the Chinese shot down several Ryan Firebee drones that were conducting surveillance in the region. As Time Magazine wrote on November 27, 1964: “Communist China held an official ceremony celebrating a “major victory” in the shooting down of “a pilotless, high-altitude reconnaissance military plane of U.S. imperialism” over Central-South China. The U.S. reaction was a classic “Who, me?” The widely known fact was that the Chicoms, for once, were not lying.”[i] The remnants of three Firebee drones were later displayed at the Chinese People’s Revolution Museum in Peking for the public to see.
The Ryan Firebee family was used extensively throughout the U.S. war in Southeast Asia. It began its Cold War career spying over Cuba, replacing manned U-2 missions in 1964. The Firebees were launched from the air by C-130 Hercules “mother ships.”
[i] The Firebee, Time, November 27, 1964